Texas little leagues have become big business; targets for theft

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abc13 looks at what teams around our region are doing to keep secure the money meant for kids. (KTRK)

Randall Collum with the Lamar Little League in Richmond has been working with kids for years.

He teaches the basics: fielding, hitting, and, of course, fair play.

He told abc13 that he doesn't understand why some adults who are involved with the game allegedly play foul with league money, like the treasurer of the Sienna Plantation Youth Baseball League who was arrested last month on embezzlement charges.

"That's a pretty sad situation and honestly it makes you step back and wonder, 'Who else could do something that?,'" Collum said. "I'm sure he was just like a normal guy out there, helping, volunteering, and you think he was just a normal guy and not planning on doing something like that."

Little League embezzlement is all too common.

In 2013, a youth baseball league in Southeast Arlington had to shut down for the season after its former president was arrested for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the team's bank account.

And last year, a North Texas community's Little League season was canceled after an organizer was charged with stealing $10,000 and using the cash to help buy a new truck.

Sienna Plantation is still up and running, but prosecutors put the league's loss at $50,000.

The league's former treasurer, Trace Werner, is accused of money laundering, theft and misapplication of financial property. Prosecutors said he used some of the stolen money for a backyard pool. Prosecutors also said he has taken responsibility for some of the money that was reported missing.

See the original story on the theft here.

An examination of Little League tax records shows how the Little League in Texas has become a big business and how it might be easy for someone to think they can get away with stealing tens of thousands of dollars.

The revenue of the 50 largest leagues in the state is close to $20 million a year. In many local leagues, hundreds of thousands of dollars flow through the teams.

Some examples include Post Oak Little League, which brought in $481,000 in revenue last year; Bellaire Little League was about the same. And West U Little League brought in over $1 million in sponsorships and dues.

You can find out more about your child's little league by clicking here.

The money goes for many things, such as field upkeep, uniforms, umpires fees and travel.

The good news is, many of the leagues in the Houston area have come up with ways to keep the money safe.

"You have to have multiple checks and balances," Cullum said. "Like right now, when we're doing registration we make sure that the money that gets deposited is equal to the number of kids we have that sign up."

Sam Yaeger is the former president of ORWALL, a prominent league in the Woodlands and Oak Ridge area, and currently district administrator for District 28 Little League, which oversees leagues in north Harris County.

"I always recruited a CPA to go into the treasurer role to take care of all the finances," he said. "He will lose his licence if any of the money is gone or missing or misused or misappropriated. He loses his job, loses his livelihood. He won't ever work again as a CPA."

Yaeger said he also believes in an open book policy, when it comes to league finances.

That policy is echoed by Frankie Escobar, longtime board member and president of the Northwest 45 Little League.

"You definitely have to have open books at all times," he said. "Anybody and everybody in the league and the board of directors should have access to the books, access to the bank accounts."

Anyone who would steal money from a Little League?

"They're rotten," Escobar said.

And all agree that if someone gets caught stealing money, they must face justice.

"You know, they really need to be prosecuted," Yaeger said. "They're taking money away from kids."
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